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Desperate search for new operator as Highland charity for visually-impaired people folds

The charity says its current level of funding can't cover the cost of delivering services.

Users of the charity successfully campaigned to save the charity in 2020
Users of the charity successfully campaigned to save the charity in 2020

Efforts are being made to find help for thousands of visually-impaired users of a charity that is being wound up.

The board of Dingwall-based Sight Action Sensory Services says it is no longer viable due to funding cuts.

A petition was raised at Inverness Sheriff Court under the Insolvency Act to wind up the organisation and appoint interim liquidators.

Around 10 staff are being made redundant.

More than 3,000 people, including children and the elderly, have also been left wondering where they will now get support.

Charity was saved four years ago

It comes four years after the organisation was saved following a campaign and the intervention of the health secretary.

The charity is part of Sight Action, formerly the Highlands and Islands Society for Blind People.

It includes Highland BlindCraft, which is not affected by the insolvency move.

Scott Murray says the winding up was inevitable due to funding issues. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Sight Action was contracted by NHS Highland, NHS Western Isles and the Highland and Western Isles Councils to provide support and training to blind and visually impaired adults and children.

Rehabilitation staff and support workers provide early intervention to help people to be more independent in their everyday lives.

As well as its main office in Dingwall, it operates outreach centres in Wick, Thurso and Stornoway.

Will someone else run the service?

A NHS Highland spokesman said: “NHS Highland has been informed that Sight Action has been placed into insolvency.

“The service provides sensory services to clients across Inverness.

“We are working with the provider to support transition to alternative provision.”

Sight Action chairman Scott Murray said it is hoped another organisation can take over the service.

He said: “We regret very much it’s come to this point, but it was inevitable due to the pressure the NHS is under.

“If they haven’t got funds, they can’t then pass them on.

NHS Highland sign outside Assynt House in Inverness.
NHS Highland is seeking alternative provision

“As it stands, we are unable to get to a point where the funding can cover the costs of delivering the services.

“But hopefully the NHS or the next contract provider can.

“We are not the first, and won’t be the last, third sector organisation this happens to unless funding constraints are addressed at the very top.

“The team are incredibly skilled and provide a service that is second to none.

“I would like to think the people now facing redundancy will be picked up by whoever takes on the contract next.”

‘Concerning and disappointing’

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said the latest setback is “deeply concerning and disappointing”.

She added: “Sight Action provided a wonderful, high quality service to our community.

“They continued to try to get a reasonable uplift from NHS Highland to run their services but were not successful.

“This will mean greater costs for NHS Highland if they are to provide a similar service.

“I really feel for the staff and their clients at this time of great uncertainty.

“I hope, even at this late hour, that a solution can be found to enable this service to continue.”

Rhoda Grant Scottish Labour MSP for Highlands and Islands.
Rhoda Grant is concerned and disappointed at the charity’s insolvency. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

Kate Forbes MSP said: “I know how helpful Sight Action Sensory Services have been to many across my constituency.

“It’s devastating to see the charity being wound up and my thoughts are with the staff involved and their families.”

Margaret Mitchell, 61, from Inverness, who has only partial sight in one eye, received help from Sight Action for many years.

She said: “I’m very upset about it. There are more than 3,000 folk now with nowhere to turn for help. Where do we go now?”

‘I’m frightened for people’

She said the charity helped people with a range of practical support from cooking and walking with a cane to filling in forms.

“I’m frightened for people who are worse off than me. They are not going to be able to manage.

“It’s ridiculous in this day and age this many people have just been dumped – that’s what it feels like – with no one assisting them.”

She was part of a campaign in 2020 to help save the charity.

A demonstration was held at NHS Highland headquarters after it was announced Sight Action’s services would end due to funding constraints.

The then health secretary Jeane Freeman stepped in to help safeguard services.